Category Archives: Science and Technology

Reading Minds: The Most Interesting Thing About Facebook’s Psychology Experiment

Much of the angst about the news of Facebook’s psychology experiment on 600,000 users has focused on the fact that people’s emotions were purposefully manipulated.  While this is, indeed, pretty shocking news (I wonder how many arguments between couples were caused by Facebook putting both parties in crappy moods), the more interesting thing to me is that Facebook can tell the emotional state of people who are posting on their site just by analyzing their posts.

Startup Citizenme provides a service that will take your social postings and provide a personality analysis on many factors, including openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness and neuroticism. While I’m sure that any good therapist could review postings and have a point of view to share as well, the fact that his is happening in a very passive way is a little more uncomfortable. I don’t think too many people sign up to be psychoanalyzed or to have their feelings manipulated when they are using Facebook, or any other social media platform for that matter. But that is the brave new world in which we live.

There are plenty of ways to see the benefit of this kind of innovation. Maybe Citizenme will morph into a dating app that connects you to people with similar levels of neuroticism. Maybe there is a new service that will show you positive posts when your own become to negative like an online anti-depressant (did Facebook show posts with kittens to users in Miami after LeBron left?).

But no matter what Citizenme or Facebook intends to do with this knowledge, the fact that our mental states can be evaluated by our posts is something that we should all be aware of. It could become the most targeted of marketing strategies. It is not hard to imagine that Facebook would charge a higher advertising rate to only reach people who were happy. Or sad. Or whatever state of mind makes them most susceptible to buying a specific product. Or it could become a way to manipulate the emotions of an entire group of people, either for good or evil, with the press of a button (like Facebook already did).

Whatever happens, we probably won’t know about it until after it has happened. So for now, get out there and start posting. Its the only way to be part of the experiment, for now.

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How Google Glass and LensCrafters Will Finally Solve Our Collaboration Problem

Last month, Google and Luxotica announced a new partnership that will likely put Google Glass in every mall in America over the next few years. While we all know Google, not everyone knows that Luxotica is a massive eyewear empire which counts Ray-Ban, Oakley, Ralph Lauren, Oliver Peoples and many more amongst the brands it designs, develops and ultimately sells at one of the many LensCrafters, Sunglass Huts or other locations that it owns. In other words, if you wear glasses, you are likely wearing Luxotica.

While this announcement was no doubt very exciting for Google and Luxotica, it should also be very exciting for the rest of us. It clearly points to an approaching widespread availability of Glass, ideally at a more consumer-friendly price point. And that could mean a world where we all are wearing Glass, or similar products, in the not so distant future.

While this idea might strike fear into the hearts of many who fear technology’s continuing creep into our daily lives, it also presents us with myriad new opportunities for interacting with the world around us. One such example is Emotient, a facial recognition company that is developing emotion recognition capabilities into a Glass app. According to the company’s website, “It detects and tracks primary expressions of emotion, overall positive and negative emotions and blended composites of multiple emotions,” including anger, disgust, contempt, fear, joy, sadness and surprise. While the big payoff for the company appears to be in equipping retail store associates to read our reactions to promotions and items we see in the store, just imagine if we all had the ability to read the emotions of everyone we are talking to in real time.

At first blush, that seems scary beyond comprehension. My initial reaction was, “No sane person would want everyone around them to know they are thinking at any moment!” However, think about all of the misunderstandings that such knowledge would clear up instantly. Our research has shown that there is a disconnect between the intentions of a speaker and the effect a communication has on a listener about 50% of the time. Eliminating, or reducing, these misunderstands holds huge potential for helping us to improve our relationships.

In the future, instead of me saying something that unknowingly upsets a friend or colleague, a version of the software that Emotient is creating could very quickly pop up a warning to say, “Detecting anger on Sally’s face. Did you mean for her to get upset?” I’d have an opportunity to clarify what I meant to say instead of leaving Sally wondering when I had turned into a complete jerk. Because It is very easy for an undercurrent of resentment to build up between two people who have repeated misunderstandings, a Glass app such as this could hold real potential for improving relationships of all kinds, whether couples, friends or even work colleagues. And healthy relationships are the real foundation of respect and collaboration.

The connection between healthy relationships and collaboration is the problem that every collaboration software provider has failed to understand over the years. Giving people a fancy collaboration website / iPhone app / video conferencing platform doesn’t make us more collaborative, it just makes us more connected. True collaboration is built upon mutual understanding and respect, and the commitment to work together towards a shared goal. It would be ironic if the answer for reaching a new level of collaboration has been, quite literally, sitting on top of our noses this whole time.

This post first appeared on Synecticsworld’s website.

Three Wishes To Make LinkedIn Groups more Productive In 2014

I remember a time, five or so years ago, when LinkedIn groups were first gaining traction. It felt like there were good discussions happening and the people that were fellow group members were genuinely interested in connecting and sharing their thinking about the industry or topic around which the group was centered. Now, perhaps it is just the groups that I’m part of, but it seems like most have become shameless dens of self-promotion. The discussions that do happen seem like they are started by one consultant or another, and they often ask some self-serving question like, “What is the most important reason to hire a consultant?” Then, other consultants provide the answers.

I’m sure that there are many great groups out there, and ultimately the group administrators are the ones who have responsibility to set the guidelines and encourage the type of interactions they are looking to promote. However, it feels like the need that these groups were serving in the early days is still there, and perhaps it’s time for a different approach. I’ve completely checked out of almost every group that I’m a part of, and I’m not entirely certain what would bring me back. But here are a few wishes.

  1. I wish that self-promotion could be treated like spam emails.
  2. I wish that discussions felt more like an intimate conversation between peers instead of trying to talk at a sports venue with peanut vendors roaming the aisles.
  3. I wish there was a way to be notified about the discussions which I would truly be interested in, and which the initiator would like me, or someone like me, to participate. Amazon does this with products which I might be interested in, so I’m sure LinkedIn could do the same with discussions.

Do these three wishes resonate with you? What else would you like to see LinkedIn do to make its groups more productive?

Creating an Innovative Mindset in I.T.

By Chipp Norcross & Joe Gammal

Recently, we had the unique and special opportunity to present at the CIO Executive Summit in Seattle alongside Kirsten Simonitsch, CIO of Premera Blue Cross.  In Kirsten’s presentation, “Driving Customer Engagement Through Innovation”, she detailed her experience of leading her team to find a deep and meaningful understanding of what people want from health insurance companies, and how they have used that knowledge to invent successful new tools and apps such as Juice and Proof.  More revealing, however, was the candor in which she described the journey she has lead within her 500 person IT organization to create a new, innovative mindset.

She illuminated a common misperception that it requires a particular type of person to be “innovative”, and that they are the people who wear cool clothes, sit around in beanbags and eat Skittles all day.  If that was the case, what could those of us who are non-Skittle-eaters ever hope to achieve?  Were we fated to a life of executing the cool ideas that the Skittle-eaters come up with?  Or was there an opportunity for everyone to become more innovative thinkers, and more successful at creating the breakthroughs they need?

In her story, Kirsten found inspiration in the Synectics model of “Cycling Worlds”.  Within the concept there is an important “Operational World”, in which we execute, focus on P&Ls, and deliver to timelines.  There is also an “Innovation World” in which we create new solutions, think differently, and dream up new ways of doing things.  While we all have the capability to work in both worlds, it’s impossible for us to be in both at the same time.  Our minds don’t allow us to be both speculative and critical at the same moment.  We can, however, go back and forth between these two “worlds” rather quickly, and that was Kirsten’s epiphany.

Cycling Worlds

Kirsten knew she had an organization that excelled at “operational excellence”.  What she wanted was “innovation excellence” as well.  She wanted to create a balance of innovative thinking inside her IT organization, and the discipline to know when and how to use each of these two very different modes of thought.  With so much focus and training put into the “Operational World” in our society, such a change would require a concerted effort with a focus on building new skills and a new, collaborative culture modeled by Kirsten herself.  So that’s exactly what she did.

Over the last two years we have had the pleasure of working with Kirsten and her team to help them build this vision and turn it into a reality.  With almost 400 members of her organization trained in Synectics and a growing cadre of facilitators and trainers within IT, there are truly amazing things happening at Premera.  Not only are exciting new products being developed, but Associate engagement has increased dramatically and a new, collaborative spirit has taken root.  None of this would’ve happened without Kirsten’s courageous leadership and that is why we were so proud to share the stage with her.

Kirsten’s presentation was the highest rated at the conference by the other CIOs in attendance.  It was a pleasure to see that her colleagues thought as highly of what she has accomplished as we do.  As members of Synecticsworld, it’s always rewarding to see a client recognized for the hard work and courageous leadership they have shown, and this conference was the perfect forum for Kirsten to share her story.

This post first appeared on Synecticsworld’s website.

How A Determined Adoptee Used Google Earth To Find His Hometown and His Family

I love this Vanity Fair story about an adoptee who used Google Earth to find his childhood home, and eventually his mother, twenty years after hopping on the wrong train in a busy Indian train station. For anyone that has ever felt a longing to find and understand where they came from, this is a heart-warming story.

Why iPhone Users Should Love Samsung Today

First of all, let’s just acknowledge that I have an iPhone. I’ve had one ever since the iPhone 3G (I’m not quite such an early adopter as to have bought the original 2G version). And, for the most part, I love the iPhone. Over the scant few years that it has been in existence, it’s truly changed how the world communicates and shares information. But let’s face it…the last few years have been a little blah as far as iPhone advances go. The headlines have been about the Retina display (iPhone 4), Siri and her associated challenges (iPhone 4S) and the larger 4″ screen (iPhone 5). Sure there have been advances under the hood, but I’ve been wanting something a little more…let’s just say sexy.

And that’s why last night’s announcement about the new Samsung Galaxy s4 was so exciting to watch. Eye tracking technology? AirWave gesture-based interface? A TV control app that uses an Infrared blaster? That’s a lot of buzz to get excited about. And it marks the first time that I’ve actually looked forward to the announcement of a smartphone other than an iPhone. And to me, that means that for the first time since the iPhone was introduced, the ball is truly in Apple’s court to respond. Rumors certainly abound about the next version of the iPhone. Could there be a fingerprint scanner? An even larger screen? I’m sure the iPhone rumor mill will kick into overdrive following Samsung’s announcement, and that is precisely why I believe every iPhone user should be thanking Samsung tonight.

Let’s face it, to remain innovative and cutting edge, we often need a rival to compete with. Coke needs Pepsi. Boeing needs Airbus. Nike needed Adidas (for many years the Nike vision statement was “Crush Adidas”). And, in the world of smartphones, Apple needs Samsung.

Samsung has put a huge target on Apple’s back. The launch of the new Galaxy s4 didn’t take place in Seoul, it took place in New York City at Radio City Music Hall. Samsung wants to beat Apple in the US, one of the few smartphone markets Apple still controls. Samsung might as well have sent a horse’s head to 1 Infinite Loop in Cupertino. Now all eyes will be on Apple, ramping up the excitement for the next iPhone over the summer.

What will make this looming battle even more exciting is that the two companies have seemingly different strategies they are following. Samsung has long competed on hardware, and now has added a lot of “wow” software features. Apple has competed on simplicity of use and an integrated experience. There’s no way to know which will company will ultimately prevail, but I do know that the competition will be thrilling to watch and will likely lead to a slew of new innovations that we can’t begin to imagine today.

While eating lunch together earlier in the week, a friend perfectly summed up the predicament that Apple finds itself in today. Apple faces a lagging stock price and a market where the still very sophisticated iPhone 4 is being offered free to new subscribers in the US and eating into iPhone 5 sales. I asked somewhat rhetorically, “What went wrong for Apple?”

“They didn’t count on Samsung to be so strong,” he responded.

After today, perhaps the rest of us can count on Samsung to be strong enough to keep challenging Apple. And ultimately, we’ll all benefit. Even Apple.

NB: As much as Chipp loves innovation in the smartphone space, he secretly longs for a day when new phones are just introduced and not turned into made for TV spectaculars at Radio City Music Hall, the Moscone Center or anywhere in between. 

This post first appeared on Synecticsworld’s website.

Epigenetics – One More Reason to Blame Everything on Mom

This evening, I had a unique opportunity to meet one of the foremost experts in nutritional research, Professor Patrick Stover, Director of the Division of Nutritional Sciences at Cornell Univeristy. And I left with an entirely new perspective about the interplay between genetics and nutrition.

Epigenetics, or “Above genetics” is the study of how certain mechanisms can change the way that genes in the body express themselves, without altering the underlying DNA.

In normal-human language, that means that you could take identical genetic twins and, by providing different stimulus at critical times, influence their development so that they look nothing alike. Even though their genes remain the same.

For those of us that are not twins, it could mean that whatever mom ate while we were in the womb played a role in how our genes evolved into being us. Maybe we are smarter, better looking or more athletic than our genes alone would’ve dictated? If our moms were drinking Choline supplements, we certainly would be less stressed-out. And maybe we’d have a lower chance of Type 2 diabetes as an extra benefit! And, not only was that benefit passed onto us, but also to our children without ever altering the genome.

For more, check out the following from the always brilliant Neil deGrasse Tyson on Nova.